How to Become an Astronomer in the US

Astronomers employ their knowledge in physics and mathematics to observe, research and analyze celestial phenomena. As an astronomer you will use your scientific knowledge to collect and interpret complex data. Often times, you will come across foreign data that is not in any scientific records. You may have to specialize in one field of astronomy and work alongside other astronomers to compliment each other’s work. If you enjoy physics and mathematics, a career in astronomy presents you with a unique opportunity to explore the universe and beyond.

What Do Astronomers Do?

In your career as an astronomer, your job description will include the following:

  • Research, classify and analyze data to determine its astronomical significance
  • Study orbits and celestial objects and determine their motions, shape, size and brightness
  • Measure infrared, gamma, x-ray and radio emissions from extraterrestrial sources and determine whether they pose any danger to life on earth
  • Publicize research findings through presentations at science fairs and other open forums
  • Assist raise funds to support research in astronomy
  • Develop software and instruments to aid in the study of astronomy
  • Simplify astronomical research findings for the general understanding of the public


You need the following qualifications to pursue a career in astronomy:

  • A Ph.D. in astronomy from a reputable university; a bachelor’s degree in physics gives you a good background to pursue a career in astronomy
  • Knowledge in programs such as astrophysics, galaxies, optics, interstellar medium, stellar and planetary physics and cosmology
  • A strong background in mathematics and computer science
  • 2-3 years as a research assistant with a senior astronomer
  • Federal security clearance


Astronomers need the following skills in their day-to-day life:

  • A genuine interest in physics, mathematics and the universe
  • Ability to study and analyze complex data
  • A strong team spirit
  • Knowledge and skills in specific scientific computer software
  • Strong observation and analysis skills
  • Patience
  • Ability to apply physics and mathematics when solving problems
  • Creative approach to problems

Work Environment

A majority of astronomers work with colleges and universities teaching astronomy and related subjects. In an institution of higher learning, your work may also involve research or lectures to help the public understand developments in astronomy.

Other institutions you can work with are the U.S. Department of Defense, research and development institutes or National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. You will mainly work in an office environment analyzing data. Space is best observable at night, so you will most likely send your nights at observatories gathering data. However, technology makes it possible to record and view data later or away from the observatory.


You salary will vary depending on your employer.

Entry level



Middle level





20 percent discount
20 percent discount


Source: Astronomers Salary

Career Prospects

As the government increases funding for research and astronomy, job opportunities for astronomers and physicists will increase by about 10 percent through to 2012, statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate. This will open up more federal, research and teaching jobs.

Additionally, an increasing interest in astronomy from the public presents more opportunities for astronomers to publish their findings for the mass market. The demand for guest articles or appearances in mainstream media is also likely to open up more opportunities. If you have a keen interest in the universe beyond and enjoy physic and mathematic, you should consider a career as an astronomer.

Image Source: PlanetQuest




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